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Achieve your goals while reducing stress levels

A Smurfit school course helps executives enhance their personal impact and presence

Managers often find their plans and aspirations are derailed by the day-to-day pressures, obstacles, and distractions that come with their jobs. This is quite common, according to Stephen Boyle of the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School. “We live in a complex world with lots of distractions and lots of stress,” he says. “Stress begets stress and it gets harder and harder to deal with.”

Boyle directs the Smurfit Executive Development course Enhance Your Personal Impact and Presence, which is aimed at dealing with this issue. “It looks at how managers can enhance their personal performance, develop a stronger sense of purpose and presence, and apply a systematic process for setting, tracking and achieving ambitious goals,” says Boyle.

According to Boyle the response to stress is very often to increase it still further with additional activity. "People think they should be doing something like yoga, more exercise, meditation, or mindfulness," he notes. "This is contributing to the phenomenon of millennial burnout. They are thinking about all the things they should be doing along with dealing with pressures from Facebook and Instagram and so on."

But burnout is not limited to millennials. “We have GPs coming in and talking about the phenomenal rise in burnout among executives,” he adds. “We are not here to do the job of the doctors. What we do is help people get things done more easily.”


People can then find out what gives them joy and a sense of fulfilment

This starts with purpose. "Mark Twain said that the two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why," says Boyle. "We help people find their purpose through reflection. Most people don't have time or don't make time for reflection and when they start, they often figure out that they're only in the job because other people made the decision for them."

That sense of purpose is associated with people’s values. “We help people to identify their strengths and where they perform best. We also help them identify their values, which have to be personal, not just what society expects of them. People can then find out what gives them joy and a sense of fulfilment.”

Being present

The next aspect is presence. “How can we be more present and in the moment?” Boyle asks. “People talk about not being present in their work or life. Instead of having a joyful reunion with their family in the evening, they find they are not in the moment because they are still thinking about work. They talk about being disappointed after meeting friends because they are not really present.”

The course addresses mind, body and relationships. “Meditation might not be for everyone, but it is proven to help concentration,” he says. “We can train our brains to focus on tasks. Young people are quite good at it because they are coming out of a continuous period of sustained learning. We drift away from it after a while but can learn it again.”

Physical health is also important. “You can do all the exercise in the world but if you have bad sleep or diet habits it’s difficult to focus. Sleep is the most common issue. When we ask people in a class only a small minority say they are getting the recommended average of seven to nine hours a night.”

We encourage people to become resonant rather than dissonant leaders

Relationships building is also key. “It’s about being present in relationships and having empathy,” says Boyle. “That can be trained and developed. Executives can struggle with cross-functional conflicts because they don’t know the people well enough.”

This feeds into leadership. “Most executives we deal with have some sort of leadership role and the type of leader you are dictates how others respond. We encourage people to become resonant rather than dissonant leaders. Resonant leaders are compassionate and not stress reactive. With dissonant leaders the compassion seeps away and it’s about management by diktat. Neuroscience studies have shown that people do exactly the opposite of what the dissonant leader wants of them. Part of our brain shuts down when we encounter them. Even recalling the encounter causes that reaction in the brain. Similarly, memories of a resonant leader cause a positive effect.

Tools and techniques

“We arm course participants with a set of tools and techniques that anyone can use to address these areas,” says Boyle. “In the final part of the programme we give participants a framework for planning what they want to be and where they want to go, where they want to be in five years’ time. This could apply to their health, finances, family, relationships, travel, or career. It helps them set out their goals for the coming year, look at the actions they need to take, decide whether they are realistic or unrealistic and pare them back accordingly.

“They can then schedule changes or look at developing new habits. They can look for the right support structures to help them achieve their goals. That could be a financial planner, a personal trainer or support at home for a healthier lifestyle. Overall, it’s a framework and a process to help people achieve their goals while reducing their stress levels at the same time.”